I was hanging out in the media center during the Players when former tour player Mark McCumber, a long-time Jacksonsville area resident and golf course designer, walked through. He's not playing much senior golf, he said, because he's had back issues and because it's more fun to enjoy the career of his son, Tyler, a star high school golfer.
I had to ask McCumber about what is probably his best-known design, The Ravines, located about 45 minutes from here in Middleburg, Fla. It opened in 1979 to rave reviews, in part because of the trademark ravines and the rolling terrain (that's unusual in Florida, which is largely Swamp Central and pretty flat). It regularly ranked among the top 20 courses in Florida. Managed poorly, the Ravines closed its doors for business two years ago. The course went into bankruptcy and recently went to auction, but it didn't attract any buyer. The course is still sitting there, overgrown with weeds.
That's frustrating for a designer, isn't it?
“You don’t have control over any of the courses you do," McCumber said philosophically. "I once said it’s like one of your kids going bad, but it’s nothing like that. If I designed a limited edition sports car for Ferrari and a guy buys one and wants to jazz it up, that’s his business. Because I live here, I’m a little more sensitive to it, but I haven’t owned the Ravines for 17 years. I don’t know the owner's name or anything about him. He made decisions that didn't work out. It's a shame because it's such a beautiful piece of land. To this day, I’ve never had a piece of real estate like it."
McCumber was bummed that two of his innovations at the course were changed. He built a nine-hole par-3 course and an undulating putting green, one-acre big, that he modeled after the famous Himalayas putting course at St. Andrews. "People loved the Himalayas and the owner just tore it up," he said.
Told that there is an interested buyer, McCumber said he was happy to hear that there's hope. "It's almost the same as building a new course, it'll cost about the same now," he said. "You've got to take all the grass off the course and re-grass the whole thing. You can't use the Bermuda that's already there, trust me. All the drainage, the bunkers, they've got to be redone. That'll be three or four million. I'm just glad someone is interested in it."